Travel Ontario: Exploring Goderich and the Bannockburn B&B
The second last stop on our discoveries of Ontario’s West Coast was Goderich, with about 8000 people the largest town in the area. Goderich has long had the nickname “Canada’s prettiest town”, which was supposedly coined by Queen Victoria. Most well-known for its eight-sided traffic circle, Courthouse Square, Goderich is loved for its Victorian streetscapes and its beautiful long Lake Huron beaches that offer some of the best sunset views in the world.
Other attractions include the Huron Historic Goal, a former jail that was in operation from 1842 to 1972. Goderich is also home to the Sifto Salt Mine, the world’s largest underground salt mine which is located on the Lake Huron shoreline. Every Sunday there is a farmer’s market on Courthouse Square which is also a popular destination for locals and tourists.
On August 21, 2011, Goderich was hit by a forceful F3 tornado that damaged the salt mine, many buildings on the historic Main Square as well as many private residences. Coming into town on the main highway, we already noticed major destruction on the historic 133 year old Victoria Street United Curch which was missing its roof and parts of the side wall. As a lover of historic architecture and a real fan of this pretty town, I was dreading what I was going to see downtown where the devastation had been the worst.
As we neared Courthouse Square we saw more houses that had been damaged, and lots of roofs were in the process of being re-shingled. I was nervously anticipating the moment of arrival on Courthouse Square because I had just visited Goderich this July when its main square was absolutely gorgeous. When we finally arrived on the square I was actually really surprised to see that it looked much better than expected. All the debris had long been cleared and the town looked very tidy. There were two main rows of Victorian houses on West Street and East Street where two entire street blocks had been seriously damaged by the tornado and buildings will likely have to come down.
But the north and west side of the square appeared virtually unscathed and even the historic Bedford Hotel appeared to be intact and was open for business. Quite a few businesses on the square had already reopened and were ready to welcome customers. The Courthouse, a solid limestone building, appeared completely intact, except for some glass damage and the beautiful trees on the square in front of it that had been decimated. But overall, Goderich made a very organized and attractive impression. I was truly impressed at how much work the community has already done in the seven short weeks after the hurricane.
On the north side of the square I popped into the Kulpepper’s Kitchen Store to talk with one of the locals. Owner Steve Rock showed me his store which includes a huge selection of kitchen and gourmet food products from 87 suppliers. Steve said that the community’s response after the tornado has been fantastic; he reopened about 3 weeks ago and wasn’t even sure if he would be open until noon as he did not expect many customers. He said the day that he reopened people came to shop in droves and he was hardly able to deal with the onslaught of customers that were eager to buy.
Since then the locals have made a concerted effort to shop at the merchants on Courthouse Square and all the stores that have reopened have red, white and blue banners signalling that they are open for business. Steve said that the community has been absolutely fantastic in supporting the affected merchants. Several disaster relief fundraisers have already taken place and many more fundraising events are planned to bring the town back to its full glory. I was really happy to see that this beautiful lakeside town has already come so far in returning to its former beauty.
We also briefly visited the attractive lakefront which offers some of the best sunset views anywhere. Some damage was still visible on the Sifto Salt Mine, and even more so on the embankment up to Lions Harbour Park where most of the trees had been torn up by the tornado. But even so, the view from the top of the salt mine against the brilliant blue sky actually had something really stunning to it.
After our discoveries in Goderich we made one final stop in Huron County: the Bannockburn B&B, housed in a stately stone farm house built in 1878. Owner Sabine Mühletaler was hard at work in the garden when we pulled up the driveway and requested a tour of her property for future reference.
Sabine originally hails from Zurich, Switzerland, and has a background in agronomics. After many years of farming, she purchased this property in 2006 and completed extensive renovations to turn it into an up-to-date bed and breakfast with three guestrooms and all modern amenities. Sabine did much of the work herself, and Amish acquaintances built the beautiful new porch that surrounds the house on the south side. Since 2007 Sabine has been welcoming guests now and every summer she hosts two weddings in the park-like setting.
Over the past three days we had seen so many facets of Ontario’s West Coast: we had visited villages and towns such as Bayfield, Clinton, Benmiller, Blyth and Goderich; we had gone hiking and biking; we had enjoyed the galleries and shops of the towns’ main streets and tasted mouth-watering local cuisine. We were in awe of the famous Lake Huron sunset – a special evening experience that draws many people to the lakefront.
But most importantly – we met some of the locals, the hard-working entrepreneurs and artists that make it all happen who create a diverse and satisfying tourist offering that brings an ever increasing number of visitors to Ontario’s West Coast. With so many beautiful and interesting places to visit, we’ll be back for sure…